Lynelle Diers

Lynelle Diers of Wapello County Public Health speaks during Monday’s press conference called after a case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Wapello County. Officials urged people to follow instructions on staying home if they feel sick and to avoid crowds.

OTTUMWA — State officials confirmed the first case of the virus that causes COVID-19 in Wapello County as the number of Iowa cases passed 100.

The Wapello County case was one of 15 new cases announced Monday. There are few details beyond the confirmation, and it was not immediately clear where in Wapello County the case was found.

The patient is an adult between 61-80 years old.

Wapello County Public Health Director Lynelle Diers said she was not allowed to give more specific information about where in Wapello County the case was found.

“The person is receiving appropriate medical treatment and is working with Wapello County Public Health,” she said.

Later Monday, Ottumwa Regional Health Center said in a statement a patient was being treated in Ottumwa: “We can confirm that we have identified and are treating a patient with a positive case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The patient is in isolation at our hospital.”

Diers made the comments during a noon press conference at City Hall in Ottumwa. Tim Richmond, the county’s emergency management coordinator, noted people can spread the virus without being severely ill. He urged people during the press conference to limit their activity outside of their homes.

“There are sacrifices that have to be made,” he said. “Just remember why we’re trying to do that.”

One of the key questions is whether this case was an instance of community spread or if the person had contact with someone elsewhere who had the virus. Diers said that information is not yet available. Officials are working to retrace the person’s movements to determine the answer.

The announcement from ORHC came as the hospital underscored restrictions on visitors. The hospital has implemented a strict no visiting policy. Exemptions will only be made for pediatric and obstetric patients, and those receiving end-of-life care. Anyone entering the hospital must use the admitting/outpatient entrance near the emergency room. All people will be screened for respiratory symptoms and asked about recent travel.

Diers said people who have been outside Iowa within the past 14 days, with the exception of people whose jobs require them to cross state lines, should isolate themselves. “Isolation begins the day you get back to Iowa,” she said. “That is day one.”

Most people who get the virus that causes COVID-19 will not need medical care, Diers said. Most cases are minor, and people will recover. Communication with health care providers is key. Call the doctor’s office before going in. That way the office can determine whether you need to come in to the office and prepare for your arrival.

Symptoms include fever and coughing. Severe cases may also include shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear as quickly as two days after exposure, though it can also take up to 14 days.

Iowa now has 105 confirmed cases. While senior citizens are most vulnerable to complications from the virus, younger people are not immune. There were 27 known cases in people between the ages of 18 and 40, and one in a person younger than age 18.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office said there have been a total of 2,043 negative tests in Iowa thus far. That figure includes testing by the state’s lab and others.

It was not clear how many of those tests were in Wapello County. Diers said the total reported back to local public health officials as of Sunday was zero, but there could have been some since the last update.

Many businesses and all Iowa schools have closed to try to slow the virus’ spread. The advice from health officials remains for people to wash their hands frequently with soap and warm water, and to avoid crowds. They have emphasized that people who are sick should stay at home.

Diers underscored that message again Monday.

“We have spent many hours preparing for our response to COVID-19,” she said. “We ask that you do your part.”

Information on the outbreak from the Iowa Department of Public Health is available at https://idph.iowa.gov/Emerging-Health-Issues/Novel-Coronavirus.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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